Military Recruiters Prospect at Ozzfest

By Newsferatu, Writer
Sunday, July 24, 2005 @ 7:26 AM

With Schools Closed, Recruiter

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From The Hartford Courant:

Commerce at the Ozzfest in Hartford is plentiful and brisk, and tends toward the countercultural. Items for sale include marijuana-flavored candy, clothing with spikes, and Cat-in-the-Hat-style hats with pictures of pot leaves.

The river of people that flows from booth to booth on a recent Sunday boasts a lot of fishnet and hairstyles that fully exploit the color spectrum. Fresh from a body-painting booth, a few women are topless, except for elaborately designed layers of air-brushed paint.

Peering over all this, like a very unlikely Lord of Misrule, is a 20-foot-tall inflatable drill sergeant. It's the signpost of the U.S. Marines tent, which has set up shop amid the T-shirt, tattoo and body-piercing booths. Some Marines wear camouflage, but instead of blending in, the uniforms have the opposite effect. A few hundred yards away, the U.S. Army has its own booth.

Certainly, the Ozzfest environs seem at odds with selling young people on the militaristic rigors of life in the service. That the touring heavy-metal music festival, now in its 10th year, was organized by Ozzy Osbourne - self-proclaimed "prince of darkness" and television's famously confused father - only adds to the incongruity. The all-day event features 20 bands.

Compounding the unlikeliness: According to Marine Staff Sgt. Larry Thomas, six or more tattoos disqualify applicants. Here, that would eliminate many.

But in military recruiting, you go where the young folks are. That usually means going to schools, but the summer gives recruiters room to try other tactics.

And the current numbers don't afford recruiters much down time. The U.S. Army, the biggest of all the military branches, has a goal of 80,000 new enlistees by the end of September. By the end of June, the Army was more than 6,000 short of the 54,935 enlistees it needed to stay on pace, and more than 2,000 short of its goal of 15,554 Army Reservists.

So, if it takes setting up a booth at the Ozzfest and shouting to prospects over the chugga-chugga sounds of the nearby bands, then so be it. Not that the military guys seem to mind. The conversations are generally friendly, and the soldiers have a good time. A lot of the concertgoers tell the recruiters about friends or relatives in the military.

It's the first year the Army has officially come to the festival, but Sgt. Robert Nerkowski Jr. is a five-time Ozzfest veteran. Events like this, he says, show that joining the military doesn't mean the end of fun. "We're a bunch of rockers, too. People think we're a bunch of robots."

Aesthetic differences aside, the metal-military gap really isn't so pronounced. Precision and aggression - traits that serve a soldier well - are two staples of the music. And unlike its equally aggressive (but less musically disciplined) cousins, punk and hardcore, metal is generally apolitical; its legions are an ideological blank canvas.

"The kids who go to these shows make great soldiers," says Nerkowski, who works in the Hartford recruiting office. Reel in that energy, he says, and "undisciplined kids can make great leaders."

This is the sixth year the Marines have been to the Ozzfest, and as always, they bring the pull-up challenge. Guys get a U.S. Marines T-shirt for 20 pull-ups and a hat for 15. Women earn a shirt for holding their chin above the bar for 70 seconds, and a hat for 50 seconds. Posters and keychains are given to all who try. Competitors sign a liability form and check off whether they want informational material sent to them. The challenge is a good draw, and for much of the day, rockers crowd around and cheer on their friends.

As he does at every Ozzfest, Raymond Magden stops by the booth to talk. The 20-year-old Waterbury resident, who came mainly to see Rob Zombie and Mudvayne, is thinking about joining within the next year. He doesn't agree with the president's reasons for invading Iraq but ultimately believes the war is for a good cause.

"I'm not scared about going over," Magden says, before giving it some thought. "I am a little bit scared, but I also feel it is a duty because they do so much to protect us."

The Army has no pull-up challenge, but it does have prime real estate. Its booth is right next to where the radio station WCCC is broadcasting and drawing a decent crowd.

Besides raffling off an Xbox and a Playstation 2 signed by the Ozzfest bands, there's plenty of Army loot, and no physical exertion is required. Free for the taking are water bottles, bags, dog tags and the official video game of the U.S. Army, "America's Army."

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